Scientist A.R. Michaelis writes that “Replacing the heavy and cumbersome coins with paper money of equal face value must be considered as one of man’s most ingenious inventions during the last 1000 years.” This month it was revealed that the Bank of England’s next £5, £10, and £20 banknotes will be going the next step by being printed on polymer, which has the advantage of being more durable, secure, and environmentally-friendly than paper. Polymer banknotes were first developed in Australia; the Reserve Bank of Australia and CSIRO’s twenty-year project resulted in the introduction of the first ever polymer banknote in 1988, the year of Australia’s bicentenary.

CSIRO Publishing's book, The Plastic Banknote: From Concept to Reality tells the story of this project from its beginning in 1968. Australia had just introduced its new paper decimal currency on Decimal Day, February 14 1966, and nearly 1000 names had been suggested for the new decimal currency including ‘austral’, ‘boomer’, ‘kwid’, ‘ming’ and ‘royal’, which was so unpopular that it was quickly withdrawn, in favour of ‘dollar’. Yet within a year of the new paper currency’s release, an ingenious group of forgers created counterfeit banknotes using modified office equipment. This activity prompted the Reserve Bank of Australia to explore new options for the security of currency, engaging CSIRO in a top-secret research project that led to the invention of its polymer banknote.

Plastic Banknote

Written by David Solomon, the CSIRO project leader of the development of plastic banknotes, and Tom Spurling, a member of the team, The Plastic Banknote takes us on a fascinating journey from the very first use of paper transactions in the beginning of the ninth century in China to the release of the $10 Australian bicentennial plastic banknote in 1988, to the exportation of this technology to over 30 countries who use it today.